Joint investigation seizes 15 pounds of drugs, dismantled Newark opioid mill

NEWARK, NJ — Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and Col. Patrick Callahan, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, announced in a Feb. 11 press release that a cooperative investigation by the State Police Opioid Enforcement Task Force and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations has resulted in the arrest of three suspects, the seizure of approximately 15 pounds of fentanyl and the dismantling of an opioid mill operating in Newark. The mill operators were distributing their narcotics in wax folds stamped with the same brand names that have been linked to 76 total suspected overdoses across New Jersey, including 29 fatal overdoses.

In November 2019, the New Jersey State Police Gangs and Organized Crime North Unit and the HSI Transitional Organized Crime and Gang Group began investigating the criminal activities of several criminal organizations operating in and around Newark.

As part of the investigation, on Feb. 9, law enforcement, along with Hazmat and K-9 units, executed a search warrant at a residence on Hobson Street in Newark and seized seven kilograms of fentanyl, including a combination of pure fentanyl and fentanyl mixed with cutting agents. Law enforcement also seized three handguns, two .45-caliber handguns and a .380-caliber handgun; two large capacity magazines, a 28-round .45-caliber drum and a 13-round .45-caliber high capacity magazine; and 13 .45-caliber flat nose cartridges.

Additionally, detectives seized 59 different rubber stamps the mill operators used to “brand” the wax folds they used to package narcotics prior to street-level distribution. Drug traffickers typically package heroin and/or fentanyl in a wax fold, which is considered one dose. They also market their “brand” of drug by ink-stamping the outside of the wax fold with a unique image, word or phrase such as “Passion,” “Thanos,” “Thor” and “No Days Off,” which are examples of stamps recovered from this mill.

The counties most impacted by the overdoses attributed to the brands associated with this mill were Middlesex at 14 overdoses, Union at 13, Ocean at 10, Monmouth at nine, Morris at seven, Essex at six and Bergen at five.

Whydia Durham, 46, of Union; Dereemus Botts, 34, of Irvington; and Nelson Johnson, 30, of Newark, were arrested and charged with maintaining a facility for controlled dangerous substances; possession with intent to distribute; possession within 1,000 feet of a school zone; destruction of evidence; distribution/possession of CDS paraphernalia; three counts of unlawful possession of a handgun; three counts of unlawful possession of a handgun during a CDS offense; two counts of unlawful possession of a high capacity magazine; and possession of CDS processing equipment.

“The poison that the criminals operating this mill pushed out across New Jersey is alleged to have claimed at least 29 lives,” Grewal said. “By working with our federal partners at the Department of Homeland Security, we are bringing a new enforcement approach to beating back this epidemic. We are focusing our efforts on the deadliest mills in New Jersey to choke off the supply of these highly potent drugs at the source where they are mixed and packaged. These collaborative efforts will continue to save countless lives, as we also continue to focus on our innovative prevention and treatment efforts.”

“Twenty-nine people lost their lives linked to the brands associated with this mill, but the victims were not limited to its physical location. Our analysis through the Drug Monitoring Initiative illustrates how quickly deadly narcotics processed in these mills spread across the state,” Callahan said. “Fentanyl is a killer that does not differentiate between the user, police officer, first responder or child who accidentally comes into contact with it. I commend the State Police detectives and our partners who have without question saved lives as a result of this outstanding investigation.”

This case will be prosecuted by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice. Charges are mere accusations, and the suspects are innocent until proven guilty.